We’ve reached the All-Star break with the Twins in the first place of the AL Central, but many fans are (rightfully) skeptical that this team can hold off the Guardians and White Sox in the AL Central, let alone make a playoff run , and the need for pitching help is even more obvious now than it was all offseason. With two weeks until the trade deadline, all eyes are on the front office to make meaningful moves.
In the meantime, let’s open up the mailbag and answer some questions.
As you look at the Twins’ pitching staff, how many pieces do they need to add to be a legitimate contender for the World Series? — Rob C.
I’ve been pretty consistent on this front, both here and on my podcast, since the beginning of the offseason, and little about the Twins pitching’s mediocre and performance shaky first-half changed my thinking.
If they want to make it tougher for the Guardians and White Sox to run them down, and especially if they aspire to do more than win a terrible division, the Twins need to add at least one playoff-caliber starter and at least two late- inning relievers. And compelling arguments could certainly be made for adding even more pitching help if the goal is a real playoff run.
As for which pitchers they should be targeting prior to the Aug. 2 deadline, I put together a list of 10 starters and a list of 10 relievers I’d recommend going after based on upside, contract status and expected acquisition cost. I focused on pitchers from clear-cut, non-contending sellers, so there will likely be other appealing options available as well.
This is a good team, but it’s several quality pitchers short of potentially being a great team, and the Twins have known that for six months. Now they have two weeks to actually do something about it.
What, if anything, is Miguel Sanó worth on the trade market? — Jim N.
Sanó has negative trade value, meaning the Twins would have to cover most or all of his remaining contract just to unload him for little or nothing in return.
We’re about to see this situation come to a head in the next few days, because the 20-day window for Sanó’s minor-league rehab assignment is almost closed. Once his rehab assignment ends, the Twins will have to clear room for him on the active roster or say goodbye, via trade, waivers or outright release. I believe there’s a decent chance we’ve seen the last of Sanó in a Twins uniform.
There’s zero reason for the Twins to send down a promising, productive young hitter like Alex Kirilloff or Jose Miranda to make room for Sanó, who’s unlikely to be a short-term upgrade and clearly not in the long-term plans. Kyle Garlick is a right-handed bench bat, a role Sanó could also fill in theory, except Garlick crushes lefties and can play the outfield, two key differences.
Nick Gordon is out of minor-league options, so the Twins can’t send him down without risking losing him on waivers. Even if they were open to doing that to make room for Sanó, the role Gordon fills as a backup shortstop, backup center fielder and platoon left fielder isn’t replicated by Sanó in any way. Gordon may be expendable, but he has more day-to-day utility than Sanó on this roster.
Gilberto Celestino can be sent to the minors and has struggled recently after a hot start to the season. If the Twins are dead set on welcoming back Sanó, then demoting Celestino is the most logical way to make room. However, it would require using Gordon a lot more in center field and it would make the bench a lot less flexible without Celestino’s glove and speed.
I’m not even sure the Twins are a better team with Sanó at this point. I’m also not sure they care to find out. They’d love to trade Sanó for anything of value and move on. But they might end up moving on even if they can’t find a taker.
Would you say the Twins are happy so far with the return on Byron Buxton’s contract? — Shawn
This is the first year of Buxton’s contract and he just started the All-Star Game, so yes. It has very obviously gone extremely well so far.
Buxton’s seven-year, $100 million contract includes a $9 million salary for this season. He’s already produced 2.9 Wins Above Replacement, which is second on the Twins and 16th in the AL. That carries a standard valuation of around $23 million, so Buxton has already blown past this year’s salary and has almost covered next year’s $15 million salary already as well.
Buxton is on pace for 5.0 WAR this season, which would be worth about $40 million. He gets paid like a good regular and he’s performing like an All-Star, providing huge excess value to the Twins. Buxton is signed through 2028 and he’s currently on track to produce enough value to cover the entire contract by mid-2024.
Byron Buxton doing Byron Buxton things in the All-Star game.
What a great moment on a national stage.pic.twitter.com/1xjRm4fYMp
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 20, 2022
Should/would the Twins look for a catcher at the trade deadline with Ryan Jeffers out for most of the season? — Robert B.
Jeffers is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured right thumb, which puts the Twins in a tricky position because they’re hoping he’ll return in September. Finding catching help in the middle of the season is typically very expensive, as options are limited. Given the Twins’ other needs, spending prospect capital on a Jeffers fill-in likely isn’t a priority.
If anything, the Twins are better equipped than most teams to handle the loss of a catcher. Gary Sánchez was the primary catcher on playoff teams in each of the past five seasons, and he started 41 of 94 games behind the plate in the first half. Sánchez is a downgrade from Jeffers defensively, but he’s been better than his awful reputation, and his hit is similarly average-ish for the position.
I’d expect Sánchez to start 4-5 games per week while Jeffers is out, with Caleb Hamilton playing a traditional backup role after the 27-year-old career minor leaguer’s breakout first half for Triple-A St. Paul got him to the big leagues for the first time.
What’s the latest on Kenta Maeda? Is it realistic that he could be a bullpen addition yet this season? — Darin L.
Maeda’s comeback from elbow surgery has advanced to throwing fastballs off a mound and he recently clocked in at 85 mph, so everything is going according to the plan thus far. It sounds like he’s aiming for a September return, with a relief role the most likely goal considering how much more time it would take him to build back up to a starter’s workload.
Maeda often moved to the bullpen for the Dodgers in the playoffs and thrived in that role, posting a 1.64 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 22 innings. There are no sure things for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, especially at age 34, but Maeda could be a bullpen weapon. September rosters also have two extra spots, making it easier to give him added rest between appearances.
On every broadcast, Dan Gladden raves about how good Max Kepler is in the right field and stresses he’s “elite” there. Are there any stats to back up this claim? — Addison D.
Absolutely. I’m guessing Gladden isn’t basing his opinion on Kepler’s numbers, but this is a case where the eye test and the numbers are in harmony.
This season, Kepler leads all MLB right fielders in Outs Above Average with plus-10 and he ranks sixth in Defensive Runs Saved with plus-5. Dating back to Kepler’s first full season in 2016, he’s second among all right fielders in Outs Above Average with plus-48 and fourth in Defensive Runs Saved with plus-40. Mookie Betts is the only right fielder ahead of Kepler in both during that span.
Kepler is without question an “elite” right fielder, and one of the best defensive right fielders in Twins history. Combined with average-ish hitting among right fielders, it adds up to a substantial all-around value. He produced the fifth-most WAR on the Twins in the first half.
MAXIMILIAN KEPLER-RÓŻYCKI pic.twitter.com/PUO64fCOSU
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) June 11, 2022
Who should the Twins try to sign to a long-term extension? — Sean M.
All but three of the 13 hitters with at least 100 at-bats for the Twins this season are already under team control for at least two more years beyond this one. Two of the three not under multi-year control are Sánchez, a 29-year-old impending free agent, and Gio Urshela, a 30-year-old eligible for free agency after 2023. It seems unlikely either would warrant a long-term investment.
Carlos Correa is obviously a notable exception, assuming that he opts out of his three-year, $105.3 million deal after this season, but signing him to a long-term extension would require a $200 million-plus commitment. Nothing about that has changed since the day the Twins signed Correa. He’s still likely to opt out and the Twins are still likely to invest $200 million-plus in anyone.
Buxton is signed through 2028. Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco are under team control through 2025. Kepler is controlled through 2024. All of the young hitters — Kirilloff, Miranda, Jeffers, Celestino, Gordon, Trevor Larnach — are nowhere near free agency. And there seemingly aren’t any pitchers close to free agency the Twins would be motivated to extend.
Arraez is a 25-year-old first-time All-Star, so attempting to extend him would certainly make some sense, but he already has three more years of team control ahead and has reached the bottom of the defensive spectrum in a hurry. Other than Arraez (and Correa), the top extension candidates are the top rookies and sophomores like Kirilloff, Jhoan Duran and Joe Ryan, but there’s no rush there.
Do you see the Twins moving Correa at the trade deadline? — Johnny N.
They aren’t trading Correa.
And, just logically, the idea that any team would sign Correa and then look to trade him at midseason while in first place is beyond odd. They signed him to try to win the division and make a playoff run. Correa has been great, on and off the field, and the Twins are leading the division after a last-place finish in 2021. What are we even talking about here?
It feels as though many rallies have started with the Twins walking the No. 8 or No. 9 hitter, creating a jam to be exploited by the top of the lineup. Have they done this more than other teams or does it just feel that way? — Roy W.
It’s not just your imagination.
Twins pitchers have walked 9.9 percent of No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, compared to the AL average of 7.4 percent, meaning they’ve walked the lineup’s bottom two hitters 33 percent more often than league average. Overall this year, No. 8 and No. 9 hitters have posted a .635 OPS, but they’ve managed a .675 OPS against Twins pitchers. Weak bats have started, and extended, too many rallies.
Chris Archer is effective for four innings every five days. Would using him as a reliever twice every five days be a greater contribution? — Kent M.
Maybe, but it’s a moot point. Archer came back from several serious injuries and this is the healthiest he’s been in years, but it still takes a lot for him to be physically able to pitch every five days. Asking him to pitch multiple times per week, and to warm up quickly in the middle of games, is just not feasible. He’s on pace for 115 innings and has a 3.41 ERA, so it’s worked pretty well as is.
Where do the Twins’ draft picks fit in your prospect rankings? — Zeus M.
I’ll have a midseason Twins top prospect list update Monday. In the meantime, you can read all about No. 8 pick Brooks Lee and No. 48 pick Connor Prielipp in my draft-night story here. They’ll both feature prominently in the rankings.
(Photo of Miguel Sanó: Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today)